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COVID-19 has left a mark on every industry, including food and beverage. Through it all, we’ve seen that adapting to existing conditions is essential, but the question on every mind was, and still is: should companies continue to invest in innovation? The answer is a resounding yes.
Uncertainty has shifted focus to near constant adjustment, but exclusive short-term focus can threaten long-term growth and survival. Planned resets are largely on hold and e-commerce is on the rise, causing a narrowing of on-shelf options, and while the industry will likely be forever changed, many behaviors and patterns will return to close to where they were before March 2020. The innovation and commercialization process takes time. Stopping now just means your tank will be dry in a year, making it critical to keep moving forward.
So, with everything in flux around you, how do you keep innovation top of mind?
First, embrace the vanguard of innovation — foodservice, in whatever forms it can take. Once defined by the combination of food, service and place, the dining experience now more than ever can provide the distraction and recreation that consumers need. Take advantage of creative menu resets to provide variety and valuable feedback for off-premise success.
Second, rethink avenues of new product discovery. Before the pandemic hit, brands of all sizes enjoyed a steadily increasing number of paths to product trial and consumer engagement. Now, safety and value are top of mind. Where and how people are browsing, discovering and trying new products is changing. How will you curate the trial experience? Leverage digital substitutes for in-store opportunities, including partnerships and collateral.
Next, be sure to build a bridge for safe experimentation. Establish a core set of flavors and product lines that align with consumer expectations, supplemented with a handful of adventurous alternatives. These new ideas, however, should still be in line with your established brand positioning. This gives consumers a reasonable entry point for your brand while allowing for unique positioning with one-of-a-kind experiences.
Last, prepare for newly abandoned territory and competitive response, especially for emerging brands. Opportunity won’t be around for long as bigger brands work to take back leadership. Take advantage of the renewed attention to reach new audiences and secure loyalty. Also, be sure to nurture relationships with key partners.
From kick off to launch, every step should have a clear purpose that will lead to market. Speed and quality are important during this time, and existing innovation processes may need reconsideration to fit the current environment. The opportunity is there, but are you willing and able to do the work to seize it?
Led by a team of CPG veterans, JPG Resources is a food & beverage innovation and operations consultancy based in Battle Creek, Michigan, where it has established a track record of building ideas into thriving food businesses. With a team of more than 40 food & beverage diehards, JPG creates positive business outcomes for disruptive startups to the most trusted global CPG brands.
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